I must admit I am not particularly fond of children, as I often find them rowdy, sticky and often sweaty. I traveled widely for my work. I have encountered adults and children from different walks of life, and I noticed that culture and societal norms play a big part in how the children of these cultures behave. An inspired Orwellian would have said it, ‘All children are equal, but some children are more equal than others.’
I find that with societies increasingly having less children, both parents and grandparents concentrate their love and resources on fewer little ones. More love means giving them whatever they want, being at their beck and call, and treating them like little emperors and cute princesses.
The result? Raising children that just seem a little too pampered, rude to their elders and being self-centered little jerks. I remembered encountering them on the streets, seeing them pop up on the internet and I told myself this is the last thing I want clinging to me for milk and sweets.
I started looking around for model children, and they are not to be found in China, Singapore, Malaysia or America, all countries that I have lived in. Each of them has idiosyncrasies which I wouldn’t go into.
I noticed them in France.
I see them in cafes in Paris, having a croissant quietly by themselves while their mothers chat under the sun. I see them cooing inside prams, not motivated to give their parents an embarrassing public meltdown. I see them running around in the parks, at train stations, minding their business, not having an e-device devour their attention. They honestly seem like fun-loving children, yet aware of their surroundings, respectful of their elders and able to keep themselves entertained with minimal fuss. Obviously not every French child I met is an angel, but the proportion of them behaving relatively well is admirable.
So I had a French client, and I asked him directly one day.
‘What is so unique about French parenting?’
I remembered he looked at me at the way a chef is asked about his secret recipe about madeleines. That little twinkle in his eye tells me he gets this question every now and then.
“In French parenting,” he told me. “We do 3 things.”
- We can say no to our children.
- We can say wait to our children.
- We have dinner with them at the same table, and we ask about their day.
I thought, “Really? That’s it? It almost feels that he just told me that to make exceptional madeleines, add flour and sugar, add some water and Voilà.”
I was expecting a deeper secret, some dark ritual that they perform over their babies while they fall asleep. Maybe even slip some white wine into their mouths while they are about to go to doze off. Nothing of that sort, and it seemed almost underwhelming advice then.
I remembered that conversation and, since becoming a father to two children, I felt these three rules ring true the most.
Saying no to our children almost feels cruel, because we can actually afford it. My own childhood was very modest, and we had limitations because my parents just couldn’t afford it. However, saying yes to our children all the time — yes to that extra cookie, yes to more play time, yes to this present, yes to that, does the direct opposite of the love we wish to give to our children. We make them pampered, make them feel like so special that they are better than everyone else.
Saying no is counter reactive to what we parents feel, but it is a powerful word. It is saying that there are still rules and norms despite being the cutest button in the house. It is saying that they are not the bosses, we are.
Getting our children to wait also seemed counter intuitive. It feels that we don’t prioritize their needs. Granted, if this is a newborn that just pooped the bejesus out of their pants, go into turbo mode and clean this baby before the poop suffocates us all. However, for everything else, it is important to show restraint and purpose. Making them wait gives them a strong signal — it is not just about you.
I want my children to revolve around my world, not revolve around theirs. It teaches them patience, manners and a life less about me, me, me. Making them wait for signals to them that priorities exist, for example when their parents are just finishing up their meal, or about to end a conversation with a friend. Patience is an important and underrated virtue in our world today.
What about having dinner with children as regularly as possible? I don’t think only the French do it, even Obama famously have dinner with his family on a regular daily basis. My wife and I work full-time hours, but we try to make time to have dinner with our children every day. I think it is important to set aside time to interact with our children, even when they are barely 2 and 4 years old at this time. We don’t allow them to drift away from the table until they are done, and I think this fosters some form of structure and feedback mechanism with them over time.
There you have it. The conversation I had with my French client was years ago, but I still remembered it very well and practiced this on a daily basis with my children.
Are they perfect? Certainly not, but they have given me and my wife fewer issues than the worst case scenarios we see outside. Is that good enough? Certainly not, but it is at least a good start, and pretty good advice.
This article was syndicated from Medium.